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Candidates appeal certification decisions in Cherokee

Appeals are underway following the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Board of Elections’ decision not to certify three candidates to run for election. 

Mary Crowe and Teresa McCoy, who had filed to run for principal chief, had appeal hearings Tuesday, April 9, though results were not available as of press time. Prospective school board candidate Sharon Bradley has also requested an appeal hearing. 

According to tribal law, a tribal member can be disqualified from running for office for any of six reasons. Those reasons include having committed a felony, participating in defrauding the tribe, being impeached and removed from office, resigning from a tribal office while under a criminal investigation, being more than 90 days in default of a debt to the tribe or not meeting residency requirements. When denied certification, candidates can appeal to the Board of Elections. If the denial is upheld, the candidate can appeal to the Cherokee Supreme Court. 

Certification denial letters from the Board of Elections cited being more than 90 days in default of a debt to the tribe as the reason for denying Crowe and Bradley. The letter sent to McCoy, meanwhile, alleged that she had defrauded the tribe and aided, abetted or encouraged another to do so. 

McCoy’s letter referenced a 1996 trip that she took to the University of Alabama for a Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act consultation.  According to the letter, the tribe reimbursed $432 in expenses for McCoy, who at the time was on Tribal Council representing Big Cove. However, the University paid McCoy an additional $1,500 that included a consultation fee, mileage, meals and motel expenses. 

The letter alleges that McCoy should have diverted the university’s money to the tribe since, “you knew, or should have known, that you were being compensated for your time and the University payment could have helped defray tribally incurred expenses.” The letter does not reference a specific policy or ordinance that would have required McCoy to divert the money. 

It also states that, following a criminal investigation by the Cherokee Indian Police Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1999 declined to bring charges and declined once more in 2003. By 2003, the five-year statute of limitations had expired. 

McCoy retired from Tribal Council in 2017 after having spent 20 years as a member of that body and launched multiple bids for the vice chief’s seat, receiving certification in each instance. 

She has hired Waynesville attorney Rusty McLean to defend her and said that she has ample evidence to show that she in fact did nothing wrong. McCoy believes there is no reason she should lawfully be disqualified from running. 

“I am appealing and I will follow the election ordinance to do that,” she said. 

Crowe, declined to comment on the facts alleged in her decertification letter but said that “in light of the negative view this has brought onto my family and myself and my campaign and this negative light within the community, I want to be afforded the right to defend myself in public before my people.”

The letter alleges that in 2011 Crowe signed a housing agreement that required her to pay $105 monthly to the tribe as an administrative fee, but that she stopped those payments. A December 2016 judgment determined that she owed the tribe $5,015, of which $3,848 is still owed. Because the debt is more than 90 days old, the letter said, she is not qualified to run for office. 

“I hope that I will be given the opportunity to be put on the ballot and allow my people to decide who they want to be the next principal chief,” Crowe said. 

The letter to Bradley is similar, alleging that she promised in a 2007 agreement to pay the Qualla Housing Authority $189,000 for a home but is behind $4,500 on her monthly payments. 

Bradley did not reply to a request for comment. 

The Smoky Mountain News requested copies of the letters the women sent asking for an appeal but had not received them as of press time.

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